How Do You Make The Most Out Of A Weak Team?

weak employee

“Where did they find these people?” I asked my friend and employee, Steve. “We would have never hired them at Maxim (Integrated Products).”

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I was talking to Steve after I’d been at Micrel for a month as General Manager of one of the company’s three divisions.   Steve had been at Micrel for two years, and he was a large part of the reason why I decided to join Micrel.  We had worked together at Maxim, Micrel’s direct competitor, and I was sharing my thoughts of what I’d observed.

“You must have been pulling your hair out,” I laughed.

“It’s been tough,” Steve said to me in the understatement of the century.

Your success can hide a lot of bad personnel decisions.


Two years earlier, the division was flying high, doing around $100 million in revenue. However, the year before I joined Micrel, the division did around $10 million in revenue.

I was hired to fix the problems, and bring the division back to its previous glory. Many of the problems were easy to identify and easy to fix. There were issues with collateral development, project management, and advertising that were right out of business 101.

The personnel issues would take longer because my plan was to literally fire everyone with the exception of Steve. He was the only one worth keeping.

As I said to Steve, “They (Micrel’s management) got drunk on their own success. No one looked deep to see they had a bunch of people that didn’t know what they were doing.”

“What are you going to do about (the Michelin Man)?” Steve asked me.


You’re going to get mediocre results with a mediocre team.


The Michelin Man (so named because he used to fold his arms around himself, making him look like the Michelin Man) ran engineering, and he was a big part of the problem. “I would love to fire him,” I said. “But it’s not my decision because he reports to Bob. For now, I’m going to focus on products within their (the engineering team's) capabilities.”

Steve nodded his head. Then I continued. “Part of the problem is (the Michelin Man) had them trying to develop products that were beyond their capabilities. That’s why you guys have been struggling.

“There was no way the products were going to work, and no one was wiling to tell the Michelin Man he was wrong. So you had the crappy result you’d expect.”

I just shook my head and said, “What a mess.”


Mediocre managers don’t know they’re hiring a mediocre team.


“He (the Michelin Man) thinks his team is great,” Steve said.

“I know,” I said. “Bob asked me what I thought of the team compared to Maxim, and I told him none of these people would have been hired at Maxim.”

“I’ll bet he didn’t like that,” Steve said.

“No, he didn’t. It was in a meeting, and I didn’t want to lie to him. He was really pissed.

“In fact, he called my a pollyanna,” I laughed.

“What are you going to do?” Steve asked.

“Like I said. I’ll fix what I can control. And, we’ll focus on products the engineering team can execute.”

During the next three years, I did exactly what I told Steve I would do. And, we were able to bring revenue up to the previous level and make the division the most profitable division of the company.

Then, as my reward, Bob fired me. The company continued along in its mediocre state until an activist investor forced a sale of the company.


You need to be obsessed with improving the talent level of your team.


Many times, you start out with a team that's not as good as the team you want.  Yet, you still succeed despite the lack of talent on your team.

The lesson I hope you take from this story is not to think you can keep hiring mediocre people.  That's a recipe to fail.  

The right lesson to learn is that you should always be looking for ways to improve your company.  That's what successful companies do.  So take a real honest look at where you can improve and get to it.

For more, read: What Are The Five Skills You Need To Be A Great CEO? - Brett J. Fox


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